National Wildlife Refuge System

Sea Turtle Nests Up Dramatically in Southeast

Green sea turtles have built record numbers of nests at Archie Carr and Hobe Sound Refuges in Florida this season.
Credit: David Patte/USFWS

“Green turtle nest numbers are through the roof,” says Bill Miller manager of Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge, FL., where a mid-August count of 1,147 more than doubled the 2011 record of 543. At Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, FL, greens had built 10,420 nests by August 21, topping the 2011 record of 6,023. Nesting season won’t end until November.
Loggerheads are also posting nest gains. By mid-August loggerheads had built 1,878 nests at Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, SC.  That’s 200 more than last year and the highest count since 1978, when the species won national protection, says manager Sarah Dawsey.

Along the southeast coast, endangered sea turtles are nesting in record numbers – the result of 30 years of federal protection efforts, say conservationists. But turtle experts worry the good news may be outweighed by a poor long-term outlook for the animals because of threats such as ocean pollution and sea-level rise.

National wildlife refuges collect extensive data on nesting sea turtles, which they help protect. Coastal refuges provide critical habitat for nesting turtles because the refuges are largely free of development, beach lighting (which can disorient turtles) and sea walls. Refuge staff and volunteers help protect nests by caging them against predators such as raccoons, possum and coyotes, and moving nests where necessary to keep them from being washed away.  

The listing of green sea turtles under the Endangered Species Act in 1978 provided other federal protections, making it illegal, for example, to hunt or fish them. Turtles take 20 to 30 years to reach sexual maturity, which is why this year’s nesting gains may reflect actions begun decades earlier.  

But how long nesting gains will offset threats to sea turtle survival is unknown. Says Miller, “If we don’t do something about ocean debris, loss of habitat to erosion and sea level rise, and the pollution of lagoons and estuaries from runoff, nesting gains will be outweighed by environmental degradations.”  

Last updated: September 6, 2013